Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh-Keays-Byrne

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Ozploitation: a type of low budget horror, comedy and action films made in Australia after the introduction of the R rating in 1971.

Released in 1979, Mad Max is one of those rags to riches indie film success stories that film historians love to cite as a high water mark of its era, with good cause.  The highest grossing film in Australia for that year, it became a cult classic in the U.S. in spite of the fact that its distributor screwed up its release and relegated it to mostly drive-in theaters.  Though the film would really take off with the release of its 1981 sequel (Max Mad 2 AKA The Road Warrior) there were the dedicated audiences that got the word out on this little engine that could of an Ozzie mini masterpiece.

It’s hard to view the film today without comparing it to its admittedly superior sequels but if you’re truly able to separate it from what came after, there’s a heck of a fun ride that awaits you.  Having recently seen all of the Mad Max movies in quick succession, what I appreciated most about the one that started it all were the quieter, more humane moments that are largely absent from subsequent installments.  I say humane because it’s only in this film that we see the family of policeman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, The Expendables III) and come to understand why and how he becomes the force of vengeance that will stop at nothing in his quest for retribution.

Though the next films in the series increasingly paint Max as more myth than man, director George Miller and Gibson give the character some necessary nuance that allows the audience to be on his side, even when he’s committing acts of violence.  Of course it helps that Miller has created such disgustingly evil villains (the main baddie is called Toecutter for pete’s sake!) for Max to feast upon.

With chase scenes that were revolutionary in 1979 and still look dangerous now, Mad Max may be pushing 40 but it works like a charm.  It’s not my favorite overall of the bunch, but it scores highest on the drama quotient which helps movie-goers appreciate what’s up next.

Check out my review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior &  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

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